Thursday, October 25, 2012

This wasn't me at that age, I don't think!

A friend forwarded me a link, which I'll share with you in just a minute. You'll see why I wanted to share this sweet video with you. And you'll see why it's relevant when I tell you that at my recent reading last Friday evening, I chose the excerpt from 'Cape Town' where Renee goes to her first class at the University of Cape Town School of Ballet. In a sentence or two, I detail exactly how that starts from a physical point of view. She has to put her feet in 'first position', which means with heels together, toes pointing out. They have to form a straight line. So take a look at this:

Cute hey? A p.s. from me suggests the little girls' feet are actually in third position, which is more appropriate for their age. And yes, the kid is right. The discipline is not exactly natural!

Friday, October 19, 2012


So this is the second question I'm frequently asked: 'Do you come from an Afrikaans background?'

Um, no. My family is English, Scottish, Irish, German, going back a generation at a time, in that order and split between the maternal and the paternal (if you can work that one out!) The closest I came is that my maternal grandmother had an Afrikaans stepmother. Those were still early days of this newish language, and my gran learned high Dutch in school.

But me, I learned little Afrikaans in school, mainly because of going to England as per my previous post. It was during the years that we lived on a farm in the Cape wine-growing area that I grew used to hearing it around me, and began to appreciate its special character and charm. This was because most of our farm workers were 'so-called coloureds', i.e. of mixed-ethnicity. That was also when I learned to speak it a little.

Generally, I'm a lover of language and languages. When we came to Canada, I was truly astonished to discover prejudices between English and French, just as there used to be in South Africa between English and Afrikaans. Isn't it time we got over this?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Two questions readers often ask

Actually, I'll deal with one today and another on Friday, when I post again.

So, readers, and especially friends and acquaintances, want to know how much of 'Cape Town' is autobiographical. The truth is, some of my experiences play into the narrative, but so do a few other peoples'. Then of course, much can be attributed to my imagination. Most of it, probably. Although  'Huis Marta' exists. Not the name, but at least, as far as the situation and building is concerned. What goes on there, I have no idea. But I used to park outside while our elder son went to his weekly flute lesson.

Sitting in the car one day, the guy with the chipped nail varnish came along. However, Renee's reaction wasn't to the situation wasn't mine.

There are two scenes which come very close to being autobiographical. They are when Renee has her dance class. Here's an actual photo of one of mine. I took it, so you can't see me! And of course, this wasn't at the U.C.T. School of Ballet, but at the Royal Ballet School at White Lodge in Richmond Park, England.

And the second? That's the wedding presided over by Desmond Tutu. The invitation came via my husband, not me, but I have to say the marriage ceremony and the reception afterwards was a very special event in my life. Just as it is in Renee's.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Readers and Writers

Years ago when I had a temporary secretarial job at a jewelry store in Bond Street, London, I used to take dictation from a man whose favourite phrase was 'needless to say'. And then of course he said it, and I wrote it! Now he's about to get his revenge because...

Needless to say, all writers are readers. That's great because we authors love to buy books. On Saturday I attended an all-day writers' workshop at our main downtown library and yes, sold some books. And connected with some readers. But looking back on the weekend, I realize my theme might have been 'connecting with other ex-South Africans'.

At the workshop I sat next to one, and yesterday attended the AGM of our local South African Rainbow Nation Association. Now in general I'm not a joiner. Truth to tell, if you'd told me in 1993 that I'd belong to such an organization, I'd have been extremely surprised. Thinking now about that attitude I wonder if it wasn't that I needed to distance myself from those apartheid years.

My husband and I were fortunate in that we usually managed to get away from South Africa and go overseas from time to time. But I remember so clearly, coming into land and feeling I was re-entering a kind of heavy, grey guilt.

Those times are over. It's so heart-warming, the support the members of SARNA are giving me for 'Cape Town'. All those hours we authors spend, sitting on our own, living in our imaginative worlds, somehow makes me forget that the end product is something other people can read and connect with. So it's gratifying when readers are enthusiastic. And maybe my best moment was when an elderly guy stood up and told the group he'd come across a copy of 'Cape Town' at his local library. There it was, prominently displayed on a stand. He took it out on loan and proclaimed 'I enjoyed it very much'.

That kind of unexpected endorsement brings a particular kind of joyous satisfaction.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A milestone in my life (and raita recipe)

Hah! I did a typo and wrote milstone! But no, last night's reading was fun, and even more so because I wasn't alone. Ex-South African poet and author Meira Cook was with me. More on her in a minute. Anyhow, we agreed I should read first. No, I didn't pull the age card and say 'I'm older than you'. It somehow made sense because 'Cape Town' ends in early 1990, and her novel 'The House on Sugarbush Road' is set in post-apartheid Johannesburg, 1994.

I knew reading would put me slightly out of my comfort zone, so I decided to choose a passage where Renee, my seventeen-year-old heroine first steps out of hers. Although you might say she did this from the moment she stepped on the train that took her away from her country home into the city. After having been more or less ostracized at the ballet school, she agrees to go and have dinner at the home of Dion, a student of mixed-ethnicity who lives with his Aunt Rabia. It's a moment when she begins to be aware of injustices.

Here's a not-so-flattering photo to prove this event did actually happen:

And so, to Meira. Her writing began with journalism, but that changed when she immigrated to Canada. She became a well-respected and award-winning poet. After her reading, someone in the audience asked why she decided to write a novel. Part of her answer was 'It was a challenge'. I could relate to that!

I've heard advice suggesting all novelists should write poetry in order to improve their prose. Yes, I do dabble, on occasion. The thing is that, reading Meira's book and listening to her read reminded me of Ann Michaels. Years ago a friend and I went to the Harbourfront Reading Series where she was appearing in what must have been her first public reading of 'Fugitive Pieces'. A little way in, we looked at each other and opened our eyes. Such wonderful, wonderful prose.

Being fairly skint at the time, I didn't buy a hardback copy and get her to sign it for me, but waited for the paperback version. A mistake, because that would have been valuable. So, in order not to make the same mistake again, I bought a copy of Meira's book and got her to sign it for me.

And now, at last, here's the recipe for cucumber raita to go with breyani mentioned in 'Cape Town':

Peel and chop some cucumber into fairly small cubes. Add yogurt, chopped (or dried) mint and salt and pepper. Mix well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Blame it on my dad

I can't remember exactly, but maybe it was in my mid-teens when my dad gave me a copy of Georgette Heyer's 'These Old Shades' to read. Gradually over the years I've collected all her historical novels. 'Friday's Child' is still my go-to book for when I need to zone out and chuckle.

So I guess it's not so surprising that I love writing romantic comedy, although I don't do historical (not yet, anyhow!) In my early fiction days, when I'd finished the first draft of 'Cape Town' and was having difficulty getting my head around the publishing industry, I started a story that became 'At Your Service, Jack'. While writing I thought 'Well, even if I never get published, at least I'm amusing myself.'

One of my favorite reader comments? "It was very funny."

Laughter is surely one of the major leavens that brighten up our everyday lives.

All this to say that I have an upcoming ebook release. To put you in the picture (kind of, see above) here's a hint:

But no, this is not the cover for 'Catch of the Day', coming out from Crimson Romance on the 5th November. Remember, remember! However, the couple do spend time in a small boat, on a lake and  
my hero, Paul George Ringo Johnson, serenades his lady.

She's known by both her forenames: Serendipity, Jade. I had a whole riff going on with Beatles' song lyrics, but had to cut because of copyright issues. Wishing in a way that one had stayed in, because, according to this article in the Guardian newspaper: it's literature's #1 music reference.

Still, I think there's plenty to chuckle over in this story.

(Sorry about the formatting. Not sure what happened there.)

See you on the other side of my screen very soon!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Upcoming Reading

Ah yes, a writer's life is strange. Truly like a roller-coaster ride.

Right now I'm kind of riding high, and wondering if this is like doing house renovations i.e. once everything is new, clean and in its right place, you forget all the hard work, decisions, anguish and disruption it took to get there. So many times I despaired of my writing, wondered if all the hard work would lead me anywhere at all, and if it was worth despoiling all those trees. This, despite encouragement, despite taking courses etc. etc.

But now, ta daa, next week in fact, I'll be reading from 'Cape Town' at a local book store, Collected Works, in Ottawa. Wednesday 10th, 7 p.m.  I popped in there last evening to drop off posters and pamphlets and I met the owner. He was obviously jazzed and said, "How exciting!"

Yes indeed. Of course this will put me somewhat out of my comfort zone. So I thought it would be fun to read a scene where my heroine first ventures out of her comfort zone. I wonder if you can guess which one that is?!

In other news, I hope to fix my website soon, and in the meantime will be blogging more on this site. Hope to see you on the other side of my screen!